“Seeds of Change,” which tells the story of a man who revolutionized the Maine prison food program, is playing at this year’s Maine Outdoor Film Festival. Photo courtesy of the Maine Outdoor Film Festival

Look, nobody wants to talk about the weather at this point. Especially when you’re the director of The Maine Outdoor Film Festival and your flagship celebration of all things outside also takes place largely outside during one of the soggiest Maine summers in memory. Still, festival director Nick Callanan says that MOFF has a plan.

“Oh, we’ve got contingency plans,” said Callanan in advance of the perennially thrilling, beautiful and thought-provoking Maine film fest, taking place this year from Thursday through July 30. He then laid out an airtight scheme of switched venues, simultaneous screening nights and other event-saving measures, all carefully locked in to ensure that this year’s MOFF fans stay dry while still experiencing some decidedly adventurous and elements-forward movie fare. Said inveterate Mainer and outdoor type Callanan of the prospects of this truly lousy (if watershed-restoring) Maine summer throwing him and his staff a big, sloppy curveball with a shrug, “It is what it is.” (I’m predicting this year’s MOFF gets nothing but sunshine and starry nights – we’re due.)

Mainers who’ve flocked to the Maine Outdoor Film Festival since 2012 are all too familiar with the great outdoors, whether from the cozy safety of the festival’s many movie-watching venues or because they, too, enjoy strapping on (insert appropriate outdoorsy gear here) and enjoying the wonders of the natural world. MOFF is a one-stop festival destination for a perpetually dazzling display of short and feature documentaries (and even a few fictional films) that, in their own unique ways, let moviegoers experience nature, in all its awe-inspiring diversity.

Said Callanan of the now Portland-based festival he helped create in Somerset County’s The Forks over a decade ago, “MOFF is about outdoor adventure and conservation films from across the world and all around the state,” admitting, “We do thumb the scales a little bit for films made in and about Maine.” And this year’s MOFF is typically overflowing with outdoor movie goodness, boasting 96 films playing out at seven venues throughout its 10-day program. According to a proud Callanan, that includes 12 feature films amid the excellent shorts, 14 world premieres and a whopping 30 Maine premieres, with 29 of the festival’s offerings being either shot by Mainers, or in Maine. (Or both.)

Attending a film festival is an immersive, uniquely rewarding experience, and how MOFF’s multiple-lenses take on our shared planet is singular. Said Callanan feelingly of the MOFF experience, “It’s all about when you step aside and decide to commit to a film. You as a viewer put all this trust in the filmmaker. You put your phone away, allowing their story, their mode, their method to encompass your moment. All these films deliver on that trust, and we’re proud that the filmmakers trusted us to exhibit them.”

Asking film festival folks to pick out their favorites is always a fun little prank I play – sort of like demanding they rank their children in order of specialness. Still, Callanan was off and running.


“ ‘Seeds of Change’ (directed by Maximilian Armstrong) is about a Maine organic farmer, Mark McBrine, who found himself having to take a day job with the Department of Corrections. So he revolutionized the food program there, making a deal to use a vacant five-acre lot outside the prison to grow organic food. He not only taught farming and created apprenticeships for incarcerated people, he got rid of all the processed food from the kitchens, teaching how to grow, cook and eat healthy. The film is such a complex piece of narrative-building, such an elevated work.”

Maine’s Indigenous people and their relationship to the environment informs two of this year’s best films, said Callanan. “The River Is Our Relative” is from the Sunlight Media Collective and, as the film’s synopsis states, “is told through the voices of 24 Penobscot people, who share their experience of historical, physical, and spiritual connection to place; of cultural identity and survival.” Said Callanan, “We have an awesome panel around that, and, as a paddler who’s spent umpteen hours on the Penobscot, it’s amazing to hear all of their stories.” In addition, this year’s MOFF features director Brian Francis’ “Blueberry Land: Epgomangati,” which Callanan notes, “is another interview-based short film about two Mikmaq men who have been raking blueberries in Maine for 60 years. There’s all this living history in the film, about people who inhabited this land before the colonists came. We’re proud to be able to show to European descendants new ways of looking at the world, the river, blueberries and how to treat your neighbor.”

Callanan promises plenty of outdoor action in addition to MOFF’s more cerebral explorations of the wider world, focusing in on films like surfing documentary “Havana Libre” from Lincolnville-based producer Tyler Dunham, about Cuban surfers attempting to overcome their nation’s repressive attitudes toward the sport, and Pablo Duranda’s rousing extreme sports documentary “No Legs, All Heart” about double amputee bike rider André Kajlich, who sets out to compete in a grueling 12-day, 3,082-mile bike race. “That’s a real favorite of mine,” said Callanan.

Naturally, we can only scrape the surface of the many, many films in this year’s festival. (Callanan squeezes in props to the Maine-made “Last Skier Standing,” about a very different endurance contest on the slopes of Vermont, and the inspirational Maine story “Rural Runners,” about activist-turned-Maine Rep. Chloe Maxmin, whose boots-on-the-ground, door-knocking campaigns have seen the democrat win seats in several deep-red northern Maine districts.

If that sounds like a lot to take in, you haven’t seen anything yet – check out MOFF’s full program at moff2023.eventive.org. For Callanan, that’s just what MOFF does. “It’s what’s awesome about this town– people want this kind of cultural event to happen. Everyone in Portland just gets it. They want to see these films and to reward the filmmakers for bringing their work here.”

Expanding the Maine Outdoor Film Festival has meant increasing the number of great Portland places to watch these films, with locations from the Eastern Prom, Space, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Maine College of Arts’ Osher Hall, Maine Studio Works, Urban Farm Fermentory and Portland craft beverage emporium Aprés all divvying up this year’s collection of outdoor films. (Check the schedule for details.)

For Callanan, MOFF is life, in all its celebratory cinematic splendor. It’s also about Mainers coming together, not just to enjoy these fascinating films but to help others do the same. “We’re thrilled to partner with places like Teens to Trails (which gives Maine middle-schoolers, who otherwise wouldn’t have it, the chance to experience Maine outdoors) and Smooth Feather Youth (providing free filmmaking experience for Maine teens). Not every kid in Maine has family or opportunity to take them outside.” He’s also happy to shout out MOFF’s sponsors, whose generosity, for the first time, allows MOFF to offer free admission to all participating filmmakers.

So lace up your boots, pack some bug spray and get ready to experience the great Maine outdoors at the Maine Outdoor Film Festival. It runs from Thursday through July 30 at some suitably picturesque Portland locales and offers attendees nothing but the whole wide world.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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